With a comparable super-powered free-roaming game in Infamous debuting a few weeks prior, Prototype distinguishes itself with a wider range of abilities, gigantic-scale action, and little regard for life in any shape or form. But bigger isn't always better.

With more graphic violence and adult situations in video games today, many politicians and parents are increasingly concerned about games' influence on children. Several tragedies have been blamed on games, such as the Beltway Sniper in Washington, D.C., who supposedly practiced using Halo, and Devin Moore killing cops in Alabama because he was "trained" to do so by Grand Theft Auto. With this, there's growing pressure to have game ratings regulated by our government.

In 2005, California passed Civil Code 1746-1746.5 to label certain violent video games and prohibit the sale or rental of such games to minors, only to have it overturned as unconstitutional; last month the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2006, Minnesota passed a law that fined consumers under the age of 17 for purchasing "Mature"-rated video games; this was also deemed unconstitutional within a month. In 2008, Massachusetts proposed a measure to criminalize the sale or rental of violent video games, but the effort was reconsidered because of the legal failures of similar acts. In March of this year, the Utah legislature voted to fine retailers selling "Mature" titles to underage buyers, but the bill was vetoed on constitutional grounds.

To date, almost $2 million in legal fees have been paid to the video-game industry because of these overturned laws. Courts have consistently ruled that video games are a form of expression (similar to books, movies, music, and television program) protected by the First Amendment - even for minors.

Sucker Punch, the studio behind the family-friendly Sly Cooper games, has finally made its debut on PlayStation 3 with Infamous, a gritty and modern look at an everyday Joe who acquires superpowers. The comparison can be made to Spider-Man: You're a reluctant hero blessed with powers; you just have to decide how to use them. The city is yours to save ... or dominate.

You play Cole MacGrath, a delivery man who wakes up after an explosion takes the lives of everyone else within six city blocks. After two weeks, Cole recovers from the blast to discover that he has been infused with electrical powers, starting with the ability to power a light bulb.

With the explosion believed to be the work of a terrorist organization, the city is locked down, and several gangs vie for control. Cole and his friends make a break for the city gates, only to be stopped by federal agents. Cole quickly agrees to help them in exchange for escape for himself and his friends, and he begins a battle to restore order to the three islands of the city.

Cole is more heroic for doing good deeds, such as helping the remaining city police, and more infamous for evil actions, such as executing criminals after detaining them. Becoming more heroic or infamous grants Cole new powers, and while you can alternate between good and evil, you won't reach your full potential by mixing the two.

The big-screen adaptations of X-Men left a foul taste in many fans' mouths, because Wolverine was not depicted as the bestial killing machine of the comics. Granted, he has a samurai's training, but when push comes to shove in a fight, he regresses to a vicious animal. And while X-Men Origins: Wolverine crushed big-screen hopes once again, the movie-based video game goes far beyond them.

The game was originally designed to be a stand-alone Wolverine title, and it was in production since late 2007. Once the movie had a release date, developer Raven Software was asked to adapt its game for the movie, causing a bit more of a rush on the final product. The end result is the one of the best Wolverine games yet, but it's not without its flaws.

In 2007, the Dynasty Warriors franchise branched out from its "hack and slash" games based on the epic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and went into the future, teaming up with the anime space drama Mobile Suit Gundam. While the resulting game was vastly different from previous Gundam games that were rooted in technical aspects, the hybrid was successful. Now (just in time for Gundam's 30th anniversary) comes the second installment of Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, adding new mobile suits, pilots, original stories, and the inclusion of colossal Gundams. But unless you're a Gundam fan, there's little chance you'll appreciate this game for longer than an hour or two.



Working from the engine of 2007's Persona 3 (which spent about six years in development), Persona 4 is the latest entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series of role-playing games. Rather than delaying a sequel by developing for a next-gen system, the publishers decided to release a new chapter on PlayStation 2 before the platform was obsolete. This dark role-playing game with Japanese anime styling has a great mixture of style and life that elevates it above the norm.

The male protagonist has just transferred to a new high school. Rumors begin floating around about the Midnight Channel, a program that appears on TV on rainy midnights and will show people their true loves. One stormy night, the curious protagonist checks out the Midnight Channel, which turns the TV into a portal into another world. He does see a woman, but the next morning she's found murdered. The mystery only grows from there, as you and your friends look to find the murderer, and discover why you have gained the power to enter the TV world and summon powerful creatures known as Personas.

Wii Fit has been a craze for Nintendo Wii since its release in May 2008. The idea that the public took away from the game's announcement was simple: Wii Fit is working out made fun and easy. Now that the game is finally in steady stock, I decided it was time to give it a shot.

The key thing I discovered my first day of using it was that even though it's marketed as a game, it's not by any means easy. Do not be fooled by the idea that this is a game that happens to have exercise in it; a 30-minute workout is still a 30-minute workout.

Most Wii games are designed for the entire family. MadWorld is not one of those games: It takes family-oriented titles and cuts them in half with a chainsaw. With extreme violence being the central theme, MadWorld brings with it a different art style and the best sports commentators I've heard to set it apart from other games on the system.

Pokémon games are initially released in two different versions. For the current generation of the handheld Nintendo DS system, those were Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, which added another 100 Pokémon to the series and presented the first online play the core series has ever had. After the first two set the new standard in what Pokémon is going to be for the current system, a third title is released on the same platform that is essentially a final version that adds new game-play elements and increases the difficulty for a tougher challenge. Pokémon Platinum is that third version for this generation, bringing with it new online mini-games in the Wi-Fi Plaza and difficulty that will frustrate even hardened role-playing-game fans.

PlayStation 3 trophy system

The current generation of video-game systems made a number of significant upgrades, from online play becoming standard to high-definition graphics to downloadable content to extend a game's longevity. One addition stands out from the others, though: the inclusion of publicly recognized achievements.

The Xbox 360 launched in 2005 with its Gamerscore system in place, and the growing popularity spawned the Playstation 3's Trophy system in 2007. The idea is simple: Put a task in a game for players to achieve, and when successful they receive an award and points for doing so. The points are then added together and are displayed with a person's online screen name as a sort of status symbol. The goals vary, from just pressing the start button in The Simpsons Game to reaching number one in the global online rankings on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.

Xbox 360 achievement messageWhat started as a way to make games more challenging has turned into an almost obsessive desire to get more points and a competition between friends and complete strangers to get on this modern version of an arcade game's high-score list.

It certainly drives me to play a game more thoroughly than I would normally, for the sake of seeing the little message pop up that I gained an award. I, along with friends and co-workers, will pick up a game and play it for the simple sake of increasing a Gamerscore or Trophies. It's like fast cars with gearheads: They get jealous when someone has something better than they have, so they want to get something even better. It's achievement envy.

It used to be that gamers would document their ridiculously impressive achievements via videotape or photos. In some cases, they would send the evidence to a publication such as Nintendo Power or world-record arbiters Twin Galaxies. With online gaming, there's no waiting for recognition; you get awards right away, and your score is available for the whole world to see. Games have given us "bragging rights 2.0."

There are a number of titles that people pick up and play for the sole purpose of gaining more awards, even if the game is not good or interesting to the player. Working at Video Games Etc., I have seen people purchase Avatar: The Burning Earth for Xbox 360 and sell it back to us the next day; I did the same thing myself. The game has 1,000 Gamerscore points that can be earned within two minutes of starting. A number of games for children have similar setups, with points that can be snagged quickly and easily. In essence, it's a brilliant marketing strategy that makes games appealing to audiences outside of their target range.

Achievements have begun to shape how people play their games: They'll spend more time with them, and they're more likely to finish them. Thinking about getting more Xbox 360 Gamerscore points motivated me to complete Prince of Persia a few days ago, even though I hadn't played it in more than three months.

I know I'm playing games I don't like from time to time, and playing games for a longer period of time than I would like to, but it doesn't stop me. I fall into the trap of wanting to make sure my score is higher than my friends' -- to be the "winner." Worse, even though I emphasize that video games need to have a certain level of quality to be worth playing, I send the worst possible message to game developers: "I'll buy a bad game that I have no interest in as long as there are easy points to get." Hypocrisy, thy name is Luke.

But there are a number of publishers that don't abuse the achievement system. And overall, achievements are awarded appropriately. Earning some can be a real point of pride, such as completing a game at the hardest difficulty. And now that online play has become common, many awards also involve the satisfying experience of winning against actual people.

Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at ssj_4luke@hotmail.com.